April 19, 2005

Gardening Tips From Someone Learning On The Job

When I was a little girl in California my mother had a lovely garden. When we moved to Arizona, not so much. In fact, most of the time we lived in a house with a desert landscape that required nothing other than a little weed pulling. When I was in junior high we moved to the fertile Ohio lands and my mother really started gardening again.

Of course as a detatched and sometimes moronic teenager, I never had much interest in gardening, but I still managed to pick some things up by osmosis -- things that stuck with me until we finally got our own house a few years ago.

And so here are a few tips I've picked up.

(1) If you don't know plants, find a friend or neighbor to help you figure out what is planted in your yard. When we first moved in, a friend came over and asked if we were going to cut down all the "short trees with big leaves." It's true they were overgrown and needed trimming, but fortunately, I knew they were dogwoods.

(2) Look at your neighbors' yards ON YOUR SIDE OF THE STREET to figure out what will work best in your yard (and condition of shadiness). My front yard has a southern exposure. What works in full sun on my side of the street, doesn't work so well in the shade of my neighbor across the street, whose yard faces north and has a large maple.

(3) From looking at other people's yards and wandering through nurseries, you can find out what plants work in what kinds of light, which is important in the next point.

(4) Shop your yard. When we moved in, our yard and few flower beds were mostly weeds. However, we had two giant hostas planted in full sun (they needed shade) and some lovely coreopsis (a sun lover) planted in shade under a dogwood. We also had some beautiful day lilies growing under the fence between our yard and our neighbors and a few growing at random almost inside a bush. The flower beds we had were brick lined. Before buying more bricks for new flower beds, we discovered that one of the old beds had two layers of bricks and there were bricks stacked around our shed. We even dug up the partial remnants of a brick path under 5 inches of top soil. We've found enough bricks to line two small beds and two large beds.

(5) Shop at your friends' and neighbors. We brought a car full of pink, yellow and purple day lilies home from a trip to visit my husband's grandmother. My neighbor down the street gave us all the hollyhock seeds we wanted. Almost anyone is willing to hand over a cutting or two. Lots of plants need to be divided and no one wants to toss the extras.

(6) Don't be intimidated into liking something you hate. I'm not a big fan of most shrubbery. The hollies and boxwoods in front of my house were taken out as soon as I could get my hands on them. Everyone raves about the expense and beauty of boxwoods, but they were not for me. Oddly enough, for all I hear about people loving them, I couldn't find a single person who wanted any of the ones I removed. So, if you hate the colors the previous owner planted or think their expensive rock garden is ugly, take it out. You don't have to live with a garden that isn't you.

I've learned many more lessons -- like zinnias survive breaking only inches from the ground, anemones and freesia hate me, dahlias never look as pretty as the pictures, and that in the late summer everying needs watering -- but those are things to figure out for one's self too. In the meantime, I need to go back and practice with some new plants to see what I like and what hates me.


I'm afraid my newly-purchased gardenias and azaleas are going to croak before I get to feeling well enough to planting them. There are only so many opportunities with Jay, though I'm thinking he can sit in his stroller while I work. How closely do you have to watch Bea to make sure she isn't eating wasps (one of my phobias!)?

Posted by: Lenise at April 19, 2005 07:48 PM

I try to work while Bea is sleeping, but often just put a blanket or two down. None of my kids has ever attempted to eat a wasp, though The Girl ate some kind of bug that flew in the house once. Mostly, The Baby scoots over and starts sucking down grass. How to keep her from doing that, I'm not sure.

Posted by: Jordana at April 19, 2005 08:49 PM

We used to set up a playpen outside for such times. They can see you, you can see them, and grass is much harder to eat. Although bugs can still fly in.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at April 20, 2005 02:25 PM

What a great post! Lots of good ideas to remember. We're just now figuring out what's in our yard, almost one year since purchasing it!

Posted by: Meredith at April 23, 2005 01:48 PM

Dahlias are weeds. Except for the ones with purple leaves ;-)

Posted by: Patricia at April 25, 2005 05:40 PM